David “The Masked Man” Shoemaker writes the Dead Wrestler Of The Week column for Deadspin (on more of an infrequent basis now), and has been an occasional contributor to Grantland on topics like professional wrestling. Shoemaker’s new book The Squared Circle: Life, Death, And Professional Wrestling, a collection of essays on every era in pro wrestling history dating back to the early 1900s, was released last week. It elevates a long-derided mix of athletics and theatricality out of the mud to appreciate brutally gifted athletes who found an outlet in entertainment, and even those who would thumb their nose at pro wrestling will find an array of fascinating characters and story lines to follow. Grantland has a particularly potent excerpt from the book up on its website now, a brief but detailed account of racism in pro wrestling since the 1980s. The excerpt covers announcers—like color commentator Jesse "The Body" Ventura—referring to minority wrestlers by various slurs and "virulently racist personas" on the pro wrestling circuit like "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. For example:
There were virulent racist personas like Colonel DeBeers, the AWA heel known for his pro-apartheid politics, and John Bradshaw Layﬁeld, the conservative Texan in the WWE who briefly railed against illegal Mexican immigrants. Michael "P.S." Hayes, ringleader of the Fabulous Freebirds, often resorted to race-baiting to intensify feuds: The Freebirds' feud with Junkyard Dog turned on Hayes calling JYD "boy," and the Freebirds once came to the ring in a major match against the Road Warriors at Comiskey Park with the rebel flag painted on their faces. In 2008, Hayes was suspended from his backstage duties with WWE for supposedly telling African American wrestler Mark Henry, "I'm more of a nigger than you are." He was said to have used the N-word casually over the years without causing a stir. He is also credited with the notion that black wrestlers don't need gimmicks because being black is their gimmick.
It’s a great preview of a book that should prove to be a definitive history of a subculture gone mainstream.